The Best Ballasting Tool For N Gauge Model Railways

Ballasting is one of those tasks you either love or hate on a model railway. It transforms your track work but is a slow laborious messy process that’s hard to get right. Ballast spreaders change this and this is my pick of the best model.

With the aid of these small containers, ballasting becomes little more than dragging the plastic box along your track. No more pushing or brushing excess ballast away from the sides to get straight lines and just the right amount of ballast deposited down the middle so you don’t end up with odd piles of the grey stuff halfway down the track.

Ballasting Tips 

Before you get near applying the ballast to your track, spend some time picking the right material.

The ballast used varied according to the region and time period. Very early railways even used ash. It’s also worth checking the size you intend to use. There’s quite a variety of sizes available, from large to fine, and although labelled as being for N gauge some brands can be too large.

Personally, I use Woodland Scenics Fine grade which, to my eyes, has the right size granules for N and 009/HOe gauge track.

When using ballast spreaders the trick is to do long runs of track in one go so you run out of track before you run out of ballast — otherwise you’ll have to lift the unit off the track with the scatter material still in the hopper where it falls out and goes everywhere. Of course, how much you load up depends on the speed at which you move along the track and I’d recommend having a trial go on a bit of spare track before using it in anger to determine what speed works for you and how much ballast to pour in.

When finished ballasting, gently tap the rails around the layout with a small spoon to get the ballast to settle between the sleepers (a light brush along the top might also be needed) and then it’s just a matter of lightly spraying with water/soap mix and applying the glue as described in this ballasting tutorial. I have seen other ballast spreaders that have brushes underneath to do this for you but on the ones I’ve tried, they don’t stay attached 🙁

My pick for the best N gauge ballast spreader

Best N Gauge Ballast SpreaderThe Proses N gauge BS-N-01 is the best all-around tool for quickly and evenly distributing ballast on N gauge track.

Place the spreader on the track, fill the hopper with your chosen ballast and pull it along the rails. The ballast falls out at the bottom onto the track and either side in a tidy, uniform, manner.

Using it allows long stretches of track to be covered quickly and easily.

The model is made of plastic and comes ready assembled, unlike some others, so can be used straight away. It’s also proven robust, having survived moderate usage for 8 months when another model that at first looked seemed better fell apart.

The only negative I have in using this is the already mentioned issue of the remaining ballast falling out when lifted off the track. The answer to this is to judge how much ballast is needed for the run of track and time it so the hopper is empty before you reach the end of the track but it would be so much better if a slider was built-in to seal the unit instead.

This niggle aside, the Proses model is a simple, effective, accessory that produces clean even results much faster than laying ballast than any other technique I’ve found.

Ballast Spreader

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Woodland Scenics Ballast 

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Full disclosure: The reviews I share here come from hands-on experience establised over many decades of making and building models and model railways. I personally test each product, often for weeks or months, before writing about it. For this review, I purchased the product myself at the regular price, and the seller had no idea it would end up featured here. No special treatment or behind-the-scenes deals – just honest feedback on my experiences of using this product.  

Founder of ModelRailwayEngineer, Andy Leaning

Andy is a lifelong modeler, writer, and founder of He has been building model railways, dioramas, and miniatures for over 20 years. His passion for model making and railways began when he was a child, building his first layout at the age of seven.
Andy’s particular passion is making scenery and structures in 4mm scale, which he sells commercially. He is particularly interested in modelling the railways of South West England during the late Victorian/early Edwardian era, although he also enjoys making sci-fi and fantasy figures and dioramas. His website has won several awards, and he is a member of MERG (Model Railway Electronics Group) and the 009 Society.
When not making models, Andy lives in Surrey with his wife and teenage son. Other interests include history, science fiction, photography, and programming. Read more about Andy.

Afflliate disclosure:The links on this page may take you to carefully selected businesses, such as Hornby, Amazon, eBay and Scale Model Scenery, where you can purchase the product under affiliate programmes. This means I receive a small commission on any orders placed although the price you pay does not change. You can read my full affiliate policy here. I also sell my my own ready to use, pre-made and painted buildings and terrain features. browse the range.

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